Cruise lines switch up traditional entertainment styles

Cruising in 2019? Don't expect the usual from scheduled onboard entertainment, say cruise lines. Instead, how about the chance to rub shoulders with a feature film makeup artist, or perhaps sitting in on a panel discussion with an award-winning composer? Maybe you'd like the opportunity to test your brain power as part of a quiz show or learn more about Italian wines.

Once seen as a weak part of an otherwise stellar seafaring vacation experience, evening entertainment aboard large cruise ships has now morphed from meh to marvelous.

Cruise ships, by tradition, have always offered music and thematic productions on board to appeal to passengers marking time between port calls, but over the years cruise lines have become more adept at scheduling entertainment that meshes better with current trends. Somewhere along the way, the ships themselves, once considered a mere mode of transportation to a vacation destination, have become the destination. And passengers love it.

Princess Cruises' newest and largest cruise ship to sail from the West Coast – the Royal Princess – offers guests a unique opportunity to hear from an impressive line-up of celebrity speakers as they sail to the sunny Mexican Riviera.

"With the recent debut of Royal Princess on the West Coast, we're excited to share with our guests a  group of dynamic and noteworthy celebrity speakers," said Denise Saviss, vice president, entertainment experience at Princess Cruises. "With motivating personal stories, poignant life moments and career highlights to share, our guests are sure to walk away impressed and inspired."

Indeed, bigger marquee names, dramatic productions with big special effects, and opportunities for education appeal to a wider audience than ever before, and each cruise line offers their own branded style of entertainment.

Looking for music-centered evenings? Carnival Cruise Line ( has "Playlist Productions," a musical way to groove your cruise nights away. Live music, karaoke, and stage performances with a plethora of music for every taste.

Want to go big with your shows? Norwegian Cruise Line is offering "Broadway On Board" performances, including the Cirque Dreams dinner show, where a dining-entertainment experience takes the traditional cruise dining concept and turns it on its head.

Sailing with the grands? Disney does entertainment like no other cruise line, with character breakfasts, live shows featuring all the favorite characters from past and present, and a wild deck party during the trip suitable for the whole family. Need a break? Four adult-centered entertainment "districts" are available for quieter music and a cocktail or glass of wine.,dream-ship/

Going truly high-class? Cunard ships, particularly the Queen Mary 2, will feature such performances as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and works of Shakespeare during the voyage. The company also partners with Blue Note Records for a unique "Blue Note Jazz at Sea" crossing, featuring artists like Herbie Hancock. Science buffs can spend an evening in the Queen Mary 2's planetarium, where scientists with the American Museum of Natural History paired up with the company to create several space-themed shows in a truly high-technology space.

It can be difficult to navigate the options, however, so if entertainment is an important part of your cruise line selection process, consult a travel agent before booking. A good agent will be able to drill down among the weeks of cruise line websites and find the perfect fit for your needs, including budget, destination and activities.

Whatever your choice, it is pretty clear that cruising in the 21st century has definitely changed to reflect its guest market. For discerning guests, this shift is definitely an improvement and goes to show that feedback matters.

Erin Kirkland is an Anchorage-based freelance writer covering the travel and tourism industry.